Spend a Night in Hawaii Without Leaving Orange County
Written By: Charla Batey
Photographed By: Rebecca Gnasso Royal Hawaiian
In the heart of Laguna Beach sits an escape to an island paradise in the form of the historic Royal Hawaiian restaurant, originally opened in 1947. One step inside the intimate eatery and you are greeted with a flower lei and surrounded by tiki statues, vintage Martinique banana leaf wallpaper with bay leaves, retro pineapple, tribal light fixtures, and ample windows with views of lush green foliage with bright red pops of anthurium flowers.
General Manager and Acting Executive Chef George Poulos’ laid back and welcoming personality suits the vibe, and a large full bar has you feeling more relaxed as bartenders serve up the Lapu Lapu signature cocktail. A rum based libation with the sweet and tangy trio of pineapple, passion fruit, and orange juice pairs nicely with the tunes from artists like Bob Marley and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole playing in the background.
As you sit back and imagine the sound of crashing waves and the mountain views, the sweet smell of Hoison Glazed Babyback Pork Spareribs soon will overtake your senses. A contemporary twist on classic Pacific Rim ribs, this dish also plays to the savory duo of sweet and spicy with dominating flavors like the hoisin sauce with pineapple puree, grated ginger, shoyu, sambal sauce, and fresh red and green peppers. A fried rice finished with sweet chili sauce, lime juice, cilantro, and toasted macadamia nuts round out the generous portion of ribs and leaves you primed for a nice, long island rest under the sun.
Q: When designing dishes, how do you go about invoking the Hawaiian spirit?
George Poulos: There has been a tradition here from when the restaurant first opened many years ago, to always serve certain dishes that are popular in Hawaii, bearing in mind that Hawaii is a very mixed cuisine where all the Pacific Rim ended up donating their knowledge and recipes to Hawaii. These influences include Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish and it all emerged into a fusion of the Pacific Rim. We came up with recipes that were in place here before and now we’ve made some adaptions including Californian influences.
Q: What flavors are unique to the Royal Hawaiian?
GP: When you are talking about flavors that come from certain products we put a lot of play on pineapple and sugar and sweetness of certain sauces and then also the spiciness that people like. The fusion of spicy and sweet comes out a lot in Hawaiian food, so we use lots of Asian spices like red peppers, hoisin sauces and hangzhou sauce of the east.
Q: How has the resurrection of the restaurant impacted the menu?
GP: The original menus, which we still have, had to evolve because they were kind of basic. Some of the public insisted on them being the same, so we did our very best to try to make them the same, however others, we allowed to morph into a more contemporary style. The way people are wanting food today is more healthy, leaner, and more freshly prepared with vegetable chutes like ginger, carrot and bell peppers. We tried a middle of the road approach.
Q: What is coming for your summer menus?
GP: We just introduced lobster tail, using Pacific coast local lobster. We have tested that out by having it served single (on the urn) or twin tails. We have also introduced the steak and lobster served in the traditional Californian way, with the lobster protruding from the shell and roasted in lemon butter with a touch of paprika. We do shrimp such as a coconut shrimp and the only pork dish we do is the spare rib. We have two styles of spare ribs; Danish cut riblets for the lunch menu with a sweet sticky sauce and an Asian fusion style [like the dish deconstructed] for dinner. Our three signature salads on the menu includes the Ono Ono, a famous salad from the old days, which is a very simple but tasty mixture of bibb and butter lettuce with a dressing made with canola, mayonnaise, blue cheese, lemon and salt and pepper. We serve desserts that are prepared in-house by our pastry chef.
- 1 ½ oz. Pineapple Juice
- 1 ½ oz. Orange Juice
- ½ oz. Passion Fruit Puree
- 2 oz. White Rum
- 1 oz. Dark Rum
Tiki-Chic meets Laguna Beach: Designer Hasty Honarkar, along with the help of Bamboo Ben, have brought the spirit of Aloha back to life in the iconic Royal Hawaiian. After years of vacancy and sound echoing off the walls, Hasty and her team have brought Tiki-Chic to Laguna by utilizing local artists and bringing in pieces from the historic Oceanic Arts and world famous Tiki Farm.
Years of History: Originally opened in 1947, the Royal Hawaiian was run by the Cabang Family for nearly six decades. Laguna resident Mo Honarkar revived this local gem in September 2016 after a many year hiatus.
331 N Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Get the Recipe of Royal Hawaiian’s Famous Lapu Lapu